Updated: May 25
This isn’t a post about gun control.
But I feel compelled to respond on behalf of a recent mass murder in my hometown.
I don’t know the first thing about guns. I shot one once. I went to a shooting range on a first date with an ROTC guy in college. I never wanted to be that girl in the movie who could’ve easily saved the day if she only knew how to take off the safety.
So, I guess I know enough to do that. But not enough to write about gun law regulations and reform.
But I’ve been thinking about guns a lot lately, mainly in the quiet of the night as insomnia and anxiety remind me of recent events.
Although many years apart, the shooter and I grew up in Bellbrook, Ohio. Silver-rated schools, according to US News & Reports. Population 7K. On the corner of the bible belt. My High School Math teacher once described Bellbrook as “The town you can’t wait to leave but spend your whole life trying to return.”
It was a Christian community. As a Catholic who wasn’t “saved,” I was invited to convert many times by local pastors and well-meaning friends.
Big homes were built. Cornfields turned into subdivisions. Still, it was one of those charming small towns where everyone knew each others’ names. I thought my mom was psychic for many years because she always knew what we were up to — but she just had a solid network of caring friends and neighbors looking out for us.
There is a dark side to small-town living. You can never really escape your past. There are no do-overs because the ever-present hum of gossip is impossible to escape. Unless you leave.
My parents still live there and will forever.
What I do know is that people are hurting. All around us. At work. At school. In small towns like Bellbrook. And in great big cities where you can reinvent yourself.
In Sue Klebold’s book A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy, she describes her son Dylan (one of the Columbine killers) like this:
“Tom and I were loving, attentive, and engaged parents, and Dylan was an enthusiastic, affectionate child. This wasn’t a kid we worried and prayed over, hoping he would eventually find his way and lead a productive life. We called him 'The Sunshine Boy' – not just because of his halo of blonde hair, but because everything seemed to come easily to him. I was grateful to be Dylan’s mother, and loved him with my whole heart and soul.”
And honestly, this is what is scarier than the guns: at any given time, someone we love could have darkness growing inside them and could just “crack” by making a horrific decision that can devastate the lives of everyone in their path.
When we hear about events like this, we look around at our world through a new terrifying lens.
If you’re a strong “J” on the Myers-Briggs personality test like me, you want to do something — ANYTHING — in response.
But it’s complicated and there are no clear answers. I applaud those who face big issues and tirelessly fight for governmental and systemic changes.
In my little world and blog about all things HR, I can think of one simple thing that might we HR Pros and business leaders can do to help:
We have got to make mental health benefits a standard part of our total compensation package. Implement an EAP (Employee Assistance Plan) as a supplement if necessary.
According to SHRM, an EAP is defined as a work-based intervention program designed to assist employees (and their families) in resolving personal problems that may be adversely affecting the employee’s performance.
Traditionally, EAPs have assisted workers with issues like alcohol or substance abuse; however, most now cover a broad range of issues such as child or elder care, relationship challenges, financial or legal problems, wellness matters, and traumatic events like workplace violence.
When you have this in your toolkit, you can offer it anytime. You can even require that employees use the service as a condition of employment in response to performance issues. Individual utilization is confidential, and the price is normally small — sometimes less than $5 per employee per month. Sometimes, they are even free as an add-on to a traditional benefits package.
However, we must do more than that. EAPs, even when offered, are often an underutilized benefit. It's important to regularly remind people it is there, and ensure that it remains accessible.
As an HR practitioner, people come to me with a whole range of problems. I would go so far as to say that everyone will experience a time in their lives when they need to seek the help of a licensed therapist. I’ve referred people many times to the EAP when I suspected that there are deeper issues bubbling underneath the surface. And I've utilized it several times myself.
Sometimes it's the big issues that people tell you about, such as a divorce or addiction, that prompt us to recommend using the EAP. But sometimes the warning signs are subtle, like:
Changes in performance
Confrontation with coworkers
Withdrawal from coworkers
Challenges with a teenager at home
But you will know in your gut when someone just might need to talk to a professional. And as friendly as we are in HR, we are not medical professionals. So at the risk of sounding like the Aflac Duck, tell your employer about this benefit and ensure that you have it.
Hang posters. Promote it on your web page. Blog a personal story about how it helped you. Talk to others. Look out for signs. Report weird behavior, no matter how minor.
As HR and business people, we need to remove the stigma around mental health and give our employees the tools to heal hearts and minds.